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The Australian Saddle, The Aussie Difference
by Mike Bergin, President Down Under Saddle Supply
Mike Bergin and friends enjoying their Austrailian Saddles on a trail ride!

Of the three major saddle types; Western, English, and Australian, the Australian saddle is probably the least well known.  However, for trail riding, endurance riding or ranch work, the Australian saddle is an excellent choice.

The Australian saddle began its popularity in the United States with the release of the movie “The Man from Snowy River” in 1982.  Set in Australia, this terrific film has some of the best horseback scenes you will ever see, and all of the riding is done on Australian saddles.

The Australian SaddleWhen the English originally settled Australia in 1788, they brought with them horses, saddles, and related tack.  The new settlers soon realized that Australia was very different from their homeland, and began changing the design of their equipment to better suit the harsh, unforgiving, remote environment.  They needed a saddle that would be comfortable while working long hours on horseback, both for the rider and the horse.  The saddle had to be tough enough to stand up to rough use, yet still be light weight and easy to girth.

The settlers took the basic English saddle and made it sturdier, to be able to stand up to the rough work of managing cattle in a harsh terrain.  They also added fittings, such as d-rings and bridge staples so they could carry their gear with them.

However, the most dramatic change was the addition of what came to be called poleys, or kneepads at the front of the saddle.  The poleys are the easiest way to distinguish Australian style saddles from other types of saddle.  The poleys are designed to be parallel to the rider’s thigh and about -inch away.  The poleys show their true value in keeping the rider securely seated when riding up or down any kind of incline, or when a horse moves quickly.  The poleys allow the rider to move their thighs forward and lock themselves into the saddle.

A highly efficient, yet simple double girthing is used to attach an Australian saddle to the horse.  The billet straps (which are sewn to the saddle) and the overgirth (a strap going across the top of the saddle) both buckle directly to the girth.  This double system allows the rider to girth the saddle more effectively, which helps eliminate slippage.  Should a billet strap break, the overgirth provides additional safety.

Australian saddles sit more forward on a horse’s back than traditional Western saddles and the stirrups are attached in a more forward position.  This puts the rider’s center of gravity and weight over the horse’s shoulders rather than the middle of the spine.  This position is thought to be more comfortable for most horses and enhances horse performance.

Most people find that the Australian riding position is also more comfortable for the rider.  With the riders feet forward of the hips there is better weight distribution, resulting in less stress on the knees. And the 2 ” leathers make it easy to turn the stirrups in the correct position.  Many riders who experience knee problems with Western and English saddles do not have problems with Australian saddles.

Stirrup leathers hang from stirrup bars on the saddle tree and are designed for easy release by sliding backwards.  Under most circumstances, should a rider take a fall and be dragged, the stirrup leathers will release from the saddle, reducing the risk of injury.

Australian saddle trees are commonly made of wood and steel, fiberglass, or polyurethane. Wood and steel provide an excellent ride through its suspended seat system.  The rider sits on webbing suspended over the tree, not on the tree itself. The webbing is then covered with padding and leather.  Some wood and steel trees can also be adjusted (with special equipment) to fit virtually any horse.  Injection molded polyurethane trees provide supreme durability, construction consistency, and light weight.

Padding or stuffing on a traditional, serge panel, Aussie saddle is very generous, with 2 inches in most areas, providing comfort for the horse.  As it compacts the unique panel self-adjusts to conform to an individual horse’s back.  Wool wadding or acrylic flock in the panels provides superior comfort, resiliency and air circulation.  The padding also provides extra cushion for the rider.

In short, the Australian saddle is a saddle that has evolved to provide maximum benefit for both the rider and horse.  Its ability to conform to the shape of the horse and to keep the rider comfortable and secure has been proven for nearly 200 years, on the harshest, driest, and most unforgiving continent on earth – Australia.

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